Another day, another book burned, another body on the pyre. Are they allowed to do that? How do they get away with it? We’re baffled. We can’t answer these questions with our current toolkit.
Since we work in media, we need to understand censorship, which means understanding the priesthood. The rational part of our brains recoils at the very thought of a priesthood. But the remaining 90% of the brain might understand it perfectly well, if we can wake it up.
Someone is unleashing a lot of stuff downstream at us. Anecdotal news, social media, and streaming services, all great diversions, all stink like shit. At the source is our answer. Getting there seems to be like trying to run a sailboat up rapids. It’s actually easier than that.
Who’s behind the stream? Is it AI? Are aliens running things? Lizard people? Put the glasses on! No. These unfalsifiable hypotheses are the media’s everlasting gobstoppers. Good for ads, bad for fact-finding missions. We won’t even humor them.
It’s obvious who is pumping this stuff downstream. They have blue check marks, they do all the news interviews, they pop up in documentaries, and you’ve seen their movie collections. But they would never call themselves a priesthood. They say, “There is no priesthood.” They’re just like you and me, right? Kind of.
There’s always a priesthood. The question is whether or not this priesthood is legitimate. So with some used books we’ll devise a test to determine what makes a priesthood legit. We’ll run this simple test, and the strip will read either red or green.
If our priesthood fails this test, that doesn’t mean we can kick them out or burn their temple down. They’re the priesthood. We can’t just kick them out.
But we can identify their turf, language, and distribution channels. We can then avoid it like the plague.
We should be able to come away from this exercise with a testing strip that can be used on any priesthood we encounter. Maybe one of them will make the strip turn green.
Or we could resign to the water cooler to bitch about tech censorship. But we’re working remotely and have no water cooler. So it’s time to pull the sailboat out of the river, and see what we can learn.
A brief history of censership (not a misspelling)
In a recent post I argued that social media algorithms aren’t censoring you. They’re just doing keeping things relevant on social media platforms to give users the experience they’ve been promised. If the promised experience of a social media platform is rage and selling a lot of ads, then you should buy some of its stock.
AI aren’t people. Despite what Peter Diamandis might say, they can’t tell a funny joke or a write good story. AI can’t censor because AI only does what it’s told by its authors.
The AI can’t censor, because that’s a job for priests only. And AI can’t be priests. Only people can censor, and not just any people.
For all of human history the priesthood has been responsible for maintaining the human order. They record and maintain the rules, act as spokespeople (or hire spokespeople), perform sacrifices, etc. We might not really care about this stuff. We don’t visit their temple after all, but the priesthood makes sure the rain comes. They’ll take responsibility for it anyway. If it doesn’t rain, it’s because we didn’t go to the temple.
One important tool of the priesthood is the censer, where they burn incense for the gods. The priesthood has very strict guidelines for what can go into a censer and who can use one. They’ll kill your ass if you break this law.
The fire of a censer cleanses the impurities of whatever is put into it. Golden idols imbibed with spirits can be melted down and turned into coins or spoons or whatever. Animals are reduced to their pure, white bones that will look good on a necklace. And burning an unholy book results in a pile of dark, useless ashes. The gods will destroy what they don’t approve of.
Gold and animals are approved offerings. Books are not. By burning a book the priest might be offering dangerous, strange fire. So with the swapping of a vowel, a handy tool in our handy bag of lexicon tricks, we can call this a censor instead. Now we can burn whatever we want to test its purity.
Our priests know better than to burn books in the streets. Too much baggage associated with book-burning. Too many bad memories.
So a clever tactic developed by the priesthood today is ensuring censored objects are less and less available. Anyone who recreates, reprints, or remasters the object is in violation. Criterion ensures that holy items never disappear. There will always be a remaster of Kurosawa’s films (the approved items can often be good, you know).
But the unholy items… well, the gods simply… fix that stuff. Banned objects now have a tendency to drop off the planet. No distribution, no reprinting with a new introduction by an esteemed professor, no remastering to an 8K disc.
(This is a fine time to shamelessly plug my theory that Vaporwave is nostalgia for gradual media decay.)
Don’t worry, you can still get all your favorite banned movies on Laserdisc and VHS, Karen. These may or may not be within your budget. You can do your banned movie nights. The stuff is decaying, so nobody cares.
At any rate, this is why we call the cleansing act of book-burning “censor-ship“. Nothing is new, except words.
And whatever you do, you absolutely cannot touch a censer, which means you cannot be a censor, if you’re not in the priesthood. Think you can censor a book? You tried, and you failed. These gods will not accept your burnt offering, Karen. You are not authorized, Karen. Criterion and Yale will remaster and reprint the things you destroy a thousand times over. Don’t even try being a censor if you’re not in the priesthood.
Want to be authorized? You’ll die before you can become a censor, Karen.
(No offense to the Karens of this world. I’m only using their language to make a very serious point.)
Pills Won’t Save Us
All this talk about the priesthood… is it rational thinking? No. Did people once think like this? Yes. This is ancient thinking, done by ancient people. But these people also cut off a finger to stop nose bleeds. Why would we want to think like that? Aren’t we beyond that now? Neil DeGrasse Tyson says they were full of shit. There’s a pill for that. Science!
We’re trained to use rationality and Science to filter the world. When the toaster breaks, we don’t call a shaman. Rationality saves us a trip to the doctor’s office. Rationality is useful for a lot of things.
Ancient thinking is not rational. It functions in the realm of the sacred world. Toasters malfunction in the profane, material world. We need a new way of thinking in order to deal with this other world. We do not need a pill.
If we put ourselves in the shoes of Cortes, standing in Tenochtitlan, in front of ten thousand corpses with hearts ripped out, we’re trained to filter this scene through rationality. We’re left scratching our heads. Were they hungry? Were they misled? Maybe we avoid the question by engaging in the Science of historical dissonance.
Our rational minds are totally unprepared to deal with the likes of the sacred world. We’re totally baffled. If an Aztec attempted to explain the blood debt requirements of the calendar, we’d get the guy on pills immediately.
And yet, isn’t our current situation just as baffling? How do we explain tech censorship? How do we explain how a joke can destroy you? Aren’t we supposed to debate this stuff or something? Instead we find a pile of corpses with their hearts ripped out, and we’re as baffled as Cortes.
Critical thinking can do a lot of things. It can reverse engineer a jet fighter or an Intel processor or a nuclear reactor. It can’t reverse-engineer the performance art of the priesthood. The sacred is a one-way flow of information. Creation myths are md5 encoded, directions to the temple are written in an indecipherable language that only 500 people can read, and the criteria for banned objects changes with the wind.
We continue to be baffled. We reach for a red pill, or a clear pill, or something to help us get through the day. To help us avoid being destroyed.
The pills help, for a moment. Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s starry pill might alleviate the occasional
seizure exorcism, but it has an area of effect that will spill into that precious remaining 90% of our brains and render us drooling zombies at Cosmos House. A built-in feature of the pill is submission to the pill-maker.
No. If we want to understand censorship, and the priesthood, we need to understand the sacred, which means understanding our ancient neighbors, who really understood the sacred. No red pills or clear pills or checker pills can get us there. Throw the pill box out. It has only confused us.
Horse Shit River
We have to start our investigation at the relentless stream of shit that the priesthood spews downstream, because that’s where we live. That’s all we know.
Horse Shit River is the 24-hour cycle of news that doesn’t affect us, a stream of raving reviews of garbage media that we don’t like, and opinions we don’t want to hear. It all smells like horse shit.
Let’s examine the 24-hour anecdotal news cycle. The journalist is tasked with selecting anecdotes that fit the story arc. This is shit news for selling ads. It’s not actual information that can guide us.
In a hypothetical forest, elves and orcs live together, but they have two different news channels. Elf News says, “The forest belongs to the elves.” Stories of orcs stomping elves to death and clear-cutting the forest for their log cabins litter the news ticker.
Then there’s Orc News, which says, “The orc refugees need a home.” Stories of elves burning orc homes and killing orc babies with magic lassos are the typical stories here.
Elf News does not report orc baby deaths, and Orc News does not report elf-stomping. No orc would watch Elf News, nor vice versa.
There’s also fake news propagated by both sides, which is rarely retracted, never with much notice.
Fake news, whether from elves and orcs, is unacceptable, and real accounts of violence are horrific, whether perpetrated against orcs or elves. And yet Horse Shit River rages through the mythical forest too, stinking it up, and so reasonable orcs and elves hate each other. The horse shit drives them insane.
In our world, we’re not too bothered by Horse Shit River. We’ve turned off the app notifications, installed ad blockers, and moved over to RSS.
But our friends, family, and coworkers seem to drink and bathe in this stuff. We have fact-checked it and can produce a compelling report that the news outlets on both sides are just ad-selling corporations.
They don’t give a damn. Or they have the nerve to say, “I don’t pay attention to the news,” and yet they have a subscription list a mile long of YouTubers ranting about current events, and they follow Twitter users who do nothing but report on exactly half of the anecdotal news out there. They fill their heads with this stuff and seem very up to date about incidents in distant lands which shouldn’t matter to them, and they’re generally pissed off at the other side, who are ruining everything.
They’re just as bad as the elves and orcs.
A Cosmology – Humanity’s Thought Core
We don’t like this horse shit, because we reject the cosmology around here. This isn’t critical thinking. This is something deeper down. It’s as if our very bones absolutely hate this stuff. Can we explain it? Do we need to?
The priesthood and all its duties always coalesce around a central cosmology. A cosmology is more than just a story. A cosmology is a device which mediates between the subject (you) and reality (everything else).
(I’ve struggled to find a better word that cosmology. Words like ideology and religion are loaded with baggage, and terms like kernel and operating system are too mechanical and don’t function in the same order. “Cosmology” conjures up images of palm readers and horoscopes, but it’s the best I’ve got.)
Armed with a compelling cosmology, a priesthood acquires the insanely powerful position of being the liaison between you and reality.
Without a compelling cosmology, they’re just crazies who shout at pedestrians.
You might have noticed a lot of crazies shouting at pedestrians lately. Many of them live downtown under tarps. But a lot of crazies shouting at pedestrians have blue check marks on Twitter.
Our poor, misled friends and family religiously follow and parrot these Verified Accounts. We often ask, “Why do you listen to these crazies?”
By carefully picking anecdotes that serve the narrative, Verified Accounts restrict their audience’s field of view so they don’t come upon non-conforming anecdotes. Bringing a non-conforming anecdote into the discussion is strictly forbidden. This person will be fact-checked, cancelled, forced to apologize, and placed on permanent probation. In a cult, at least they give you a mat to sleep on.
And yet, these Verified Accounts, and all their followers, will look you in the eye and say with a straight face, “There is no priesthood.”
We’re in the business of truth-seeking. We’re not in the business of joining a cult. We see a lot of normal, well-meaning people doing this. We’d like to stop our friends, family, and coworkers from following suit. Our loved ones will try and lure us toward the cult with clickbait anecdotes, but we won’t respond with counter-anecdotes. Because if our knight takes their pawn, then their rook takes our knight, and then…
We’re done playing anecdote chess.
This priesthood might be immune from rationality. So we need to learn to think in terms of the sacred, just to understand what’s happening. Jung can’t help us in these parts. Even Frazer, after giving us the a map or two, will inform us that we’re on our own.
The Polluting Source of Horse Shit River
Having pulled our pathetic sailboat out of the raging rapids, we decide to walk along the river, upstream, to uncover the source of the relentless flow of horse shit that’s polluting the waters of our modern world.
Most folks here in the valley are content dealing with their shitty river. Some make a decent living blogging and editorializing about it. Others make money analyzing it. Some sell “Welcome to Horse Shit River” t-shirts. They’re all in the horse shit business and they reek of it everywhere they go.
We’d rather not be in the business of dealing with horse shit. We just want to know where it’s coming from. We go upstream to try and locate this massive horse-shit-generator.
Going upstream, through a lot of overgrowth and past some impressive crags, we encounter schools, movie theaters, coal mines and a big trucking company with a lot of rock piles. None of them are the source of the horse shit.
Beyond these is a large factory on the river’s edge. Looking upstream from the factory we spot clean, fishable water. So this factory is definitely the horse-shit-generator.
They’re also on Google Maps. We could have driven here. This place is no secret. But nobody comes here.
Upon arrival at the factory, we’re shocked to discover an “OPEN” sign on the front door. Inside, a lady named Betty invites us to a free tour. Nobody’s taken a free tour since the factory opened, so we take the nice lady up on her offer and hop on the golf cart.
The Factory tour begins with a video acknowledging the stream of horse shit flowing into the river. They spend a lot of money on horse-shit offsets. We accept this and continue on.
We learn that the factory produces a widget. This widget isn’t just some fidget spinner to sooth our OCD. This widget is an easy-to-understand guide for the perplexed that fits comfortably in our palm.
This widget has three characteristics: reliability, verifiability, and power. Betty describes these in detail:
1. The widget is reliable.
The widget’s springs and gears have been designed by the best in the business, and it’ll run forever. For all we know it’s been running since the beginning of time. Its permanence guarantees the widget will withstand anything thrown at it.
The widget’s workings represent the permanent cycles of the cosmos. Just as the battle between Apsu and Tiamat created the world, Romulus and Remus created Rome, and the oppressed fighting their oppressors created entire governments, the permanence of the cosmic cycle is thus represented by this widget and makes it very reliable.
This cosmic order deals primarily with human affairs, which is an ethic. When our ancient ancestors realized they could kill each other with tools, and animals could not, they became paralyzed in the face of mutual destruction. An ethics of violence resulted.
The human mirror neuron system is a rapacious, violence generator, uniquely capable of total, mutual destruction (and to our credit, we can also build cool skyscrapers). Our capacity for total destruction requires an incentive not to totally mutually destroy. The widget has that ethic baked in. It must.
The widget would be very unethical if it destroyed all humans. Anti-humanism is actually pretty rational, but it has no place in a cosmology. Total destruction means nobody will be left to enjoy the widget. There would be no point, then.
The widget must assure its owners that total, mutual destruction is not immanent. We’re secure in knowing that, at least for the Widget’s user, there’s no sunset on our human endeavors. Thus the widget is reliable.
2. The widget is verifiable.
The widget’s cosmology is verified by science and history. This widget can explain just about anything on Wikipedia. The revolution of Mercury? The English Civil War? Maple syrup? The widget explains all. Perhaps Wikipedia uses this same widget…
A defunct widget company once sold a widget called Widget 43 which also explained almost anything, but in a very different way. Unfortunately the ethic was, let’s just say, of its time. Widget 43 seemed to be burning down a lot of cities. So people stopped using Widget 43.
You can still get Widget 43 on eBay. You can find even older widgets if you know where to look. Some will get you invited to a conference for their novelty. Others will get you thrown on the pyre.
If this here widget can’t explain something, Betty says this is no problem. Someone can update the Wikipedia entry, write a press release to correct the error, or issue a memo that will make its way to every leader in the world. Do you have these editing privileges? Would you like to have them? The widget has these instructions, but they’re useless for you, Karen. Who are these instructions for? Are they instructions for priests!?
Anyway, this seems like a handy widget, but being curious folks, we think of a couple things off the top of our heads that the widget can’t explain, stuff that Wiki authors won’t bother addressing. Betty has heard this song and dance before. She assures us that the third aspect of the widget will convince us that this is the widget to take home.
3. The widget is powerful.
If you use this widget, you will become powerful, more powerful than you ever imagined. See, this widget is a power-seeker. You can use this widget in your home, school, corporation, government office, or Twitter account, and if you follow the power instructions, it will suck up power like a vacuum, and deposit it into your very own power account.
When the widget is near two or more people in a hierarchical relationship, for example a director and a PA, an elected official and a voter, or a Maleficent and a king, it registers a power imbalance. As the beholder, if you address the power imbalance and reduce the power differential between the two parties, the delta in power change is transferred to your account.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because all our friends, family, and coworkers have this widget. Patriots, immigrants, punk rockers, religious extremists, farmers, academics, and our Twitter friends around the world all have this widget. Some vote, some take to Twitter, and others punch pedestrians. All are ways to add to one’s power account.
When we have racked up a big enough power account, we might become Verified. Maybe we’ll be able to edit Wikipedia, or write that press release. Refer to #2 above for instructions. Just don’t fuck up and expose a crack in the Matrix.
The widget also comes with a warning written in 75 different languages: “Do not to reveal the amount of power in your power accounts.” The reason for this should be obvious. Revealing our power level gives other widget users an opportunity, no, an incentive, to knock our legs out from under us. They’ll do anything, from digging up 10-year-old tweets to fishing through your subscriptions, to take you down.
If other widget users smell power, they will take it. Because that’s how this widget works. For everyone. Even the people you hate. It’s the perpetual cycle of the cosmos, baked into this widget. Can you play at this game, Karen?
If you can, you will gain enough power to become the mediator between people and reality. This is the path to joining the priesthood.
And this is why, if you use this widget, you must deny the existence of the priesthood. Or you’ll find yourself on the pyre.
We thank Betty for the tour. She offers us a free widget, but we politely refuse and exit through the gift shop. “Come back again!” says the kind, old Betty. She’s not offended, she’s just happy she could talk to someone.
Wait a minute, I thought we were coming here to shut down this horse-shit-producing factory and clean up the river! People are suffering! Why did you bring us here?!
We look in our pocket, and we discover…
We have this very same widget, dangling from our keychain.
This is embarrassing, but is it surprising? Didn’t we kinda know it was there already? Didn’t we come here thinking that we could suck power out of this whole situation for our own benefit? Maybe we could, if we could play the game. With enough power, we could eventually censor the censors, and cancel the cancellers. But then we’d be promoting the use of the same, horrible widget. The horse shit would keep flowing.
The point isn’t to beat them and take over. The point isn’t to join their ranks. The whole point was to get away from the horse shit.
I threw my widget out, which triggered the deletion of its power account. 110,000 followers on FB, 13,000 on Instagram. All gone, like tears in horse shit river.
We don’t shut down the factory. We don’t clean up the river.
We just move upstream to crystal clear, fishable waters. What exactly is up here? Don’t know yet. Lots to see.
What don’t we see? What don’t we smell? People burning at the stake. It’s here where the air, the water, and the information airwaves are totally clear and free of horse shit.
We now have a testing kit, the ultimate horse-shit detector, to determine whether the priesthood is legit. What’s the test?
- Is there a priesthood? Answer: Always, inevitably, yes.
- What’s its cosmology? See 1-3 above.
- Does the priesthood lie? If so, do they burn you on the pyre when you notice?
The testing strip is blood red.